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Football Club badges: The rule that gives fans a say in 2024

Football club badges are fundamental parts of each team's identity. In many cases, it can portray a club’s historical roots, founding principles, or cultural heritage. As a consequence, the design of a badge often illustrates the enduring characteristics of the football club.

Colours, mottos, animals, and architecture are used as emblems to project the club’s unique identity, and distinguish themselves from others in the footballing world.

The importance of football club badges is heightened by its widespread usage in a variety of different contexts. We perhaps most commonly associate club crests with being emblazoned on kits, but their use isn’t just reserved for the jerseys of players on matchdays.

In reality, these identity symbols are everywhere; broadcasting images, social media pages, merchandise, and stadium graphics to name just a few.

A sacred connection

Unsurprisingly, the nature of the club’s crest – and the preservation of the defining features and values depicted within it – is an emotive issue for fan bases. The elements of football badges typically resonate directly with supporters; local influences, familiar imagery, and powerful slogans all play their part. Therefore, any adjustments to this vital piece of a club’s persona can cause a major stir among supporters – just ask Leeds United’s legions of loyal followers.

In 2018, the Elland Road outfit motioned to make a material change to their crest, exploring the possibility of replacing their 20-year-old emblem in time for their centenary campaign.

It was pitched that the traditional yellow-framed shield bordering the Yorkshire rose and ‘LUFC’ moniker was to be replaced with a cartoon-style, chest-pumping torso with the phrase ‘Leeds United’ inscribed above it.

To say it didn’t go down well with Whites fans would be somewhat of an under statement. Within a month of its unveiling, the unpopular badge was dropped after an unprecedented backlash, which saw upwards of 50,000 disgruntled fans sign a petition to abandon plans for its launch.

Fan Power

Although supporter power blocked Chief Executive Angus Kinnear from rolling out the controversial crest, the club’s hierarchy did it at least attempt to engage relevant stakeholders before publishing the new design. A cross-section of over 10,000 people connected to the club were consulted about the graphic, as board members aimed to secure the buy-in of the wider Leeds United community.

Although the end result was unfortunate, Kinnear and his team can at least be applauded for their efforts in trying to involve fans in the decision-making process. After all, in 2018, there was no official procedures regarding the re-calibration of football club badges; in effect, owners could do as they please in this respect.

Gaining a foothold

Following parliament’s fan-led review into the governance of football club’s and financial stability of the English game in 2021, the FA decided to tighten the rules and regulations surrounding the changing of football club badges. In essence, official FA guidance now requires owners/senior leaders to implement ‘‘a thorough and extensive consultation process with supporters’’ when considering re-designs, given their place and importance in reflecting the identity of a football club.

Aston Villa were the first team to undergo a crest change since procedures were introduced in 2022, as the West Midlands side resolved to revert back to their circular-shaped emblem after 33 years. The board canvassed opinion from Villa’s ‘Fan Consultation Group’ amongst others, as it looked to piece together a mandate for the switchover.

The proposed change proved to be universally popular, with 77% of supporters interviewed choosing to endorse the new badge. Perhaps unaware that the process was a compulsory requirement, Villa fans were quick to show their appreciation for the board’s inclusive approach. Although the badge has only been in operation since the onset of the 2023/24 campaign, Aston Villa Business President Chris Heck has already floated the idea of another tweak to acknowledge the club’s 150th anniversary.

Early signs hint that the consultation process for this latest adjustment has not been adhered to quite so stringently as the first.

FA Guidance on Football Club Badges

The FA have set-out their expectations on badge changes in their ‘rules of association’

Guidance on this matter is referenced in Rules M4 to M10, with commentary on proposed alterations to home team colours also documented in this section (the two items are treated as virtually one and the same). These rules have been enforced in order to ‘protect the core heritage of clubs’ as the FA seeks to address the concerns raised in Tracey Crouch’s fan-led review.

A brief overview of the FA’s key guidance points are articulated below:

  • Clubs must deliver a consultation process if there is a material change to the club crest. This constitutes a significant colour change, addition/deletion of text, addition/deletion of notable design features.
  • An independent supporter poll on the proposed badge change should be conducted, ideally requesting the views of individuals from the following: Groups such as supporters trusts, season ticket holders, and fans that have attended a pre-determined number of fixtures at the club’s home ground the previous season.
  • When seeking to understand whether a majority of fans are in favour of proposed changes, the FA will analyse the results of surveys/polls completed by the above groups as the best indicator of widespread opinion/approval.
  • Any minor tweaks to football club badges do not need to be ratified by fans. Therefore, if core colours are slightly lightened or darkened, or font size is adjusted but the same text remains, these changes can go ahead without a consultation process.
  • Clubs have more scope to modify crests when commemorating anniversaries/centenary campaigns. Although the above rules still generally apply, clubs have greater flexibility to make changes, and therefore the threshold for involving fans in the decision-making process is somewhat relaxed. However, any changes should be temporary, and only be in effect for a maximum of one season.

Ryan Murray

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